“I don’t know if this film will make a difference, but I know it is important to make a film like this.” These were the words of Marc Evans, director and co-writer of In Prison My Whole Life at the film’s co-premiere in Rome. Made in collaboration with Amnesty International, In Prison My Whole Life is a documentary of the life and incarceration of Mumia Abu Jamal, a journalist an ex-member of the Black Panther Party sentenced to death on the 9th December 1981 for the shooting of police officer Daniel Faulkner and still protesting his innocence 25 years on.
The documentary is narrated by William Francome, an Anglo-American ex-sociology student who was born on the same day as Mumia was convicted. The film opens with his words: "I have been aware of Mumia for as long as I can remember... I am going on a journey to find out about the man who has been in prison my whole life.”
Francome’s constant presence throughout serves as a concrete reminder of the length of time that Jamal has spent in jail, while his inquisitive tone and open demeanor give the film a realism and immediacy that could otherwise undermine the urgency of its message. Backed by MySpace and emulating the digital documentary style, In Prison My Whole Life is fascinating film that examines how and why the legal system of the land of the free could have made an innocent man spend a lifetime “waiting, waiting, waiting, to die.”
Approaching the case 25 years on, the film pulls both apart the original trail and provides new photographic evidence that the court originally ignored. Written in corroboration with Amnesty International, the screenplay is based on a report published in 2000 which concluded that Mumia’s trial was "in violation of minimum international standards," concluding "the interests of justice would best be served by the granting of a new trial."
The film-makers go on to examine why Mumia has become such an emblematic figure and how this has contributed to his continued incarceration. What begins as a single case opens into a more general critique of capital punishment, institutionalized racism and shocking police brutality in US society as a whole.
Ranging from the FBI assassination of Black Panther leaders in the 1970s to the heartrending pictures of the victims of Hurricane Katrina, the documentary seeks to demonstrate how the factors affected Mumia’s original trial are still relevant today and how much further there is to go before justice becomes truly blind.
Including interviews with Angela Davis, Noam Chomsky and Amy Goodman, original music from Mos Def, Snoop Dogg and Steve Earle, and counting Colin Firth among the executive producers, no doubt these famous faces will help to broaden the film’s appeal to both distributers and the general public.
Yet despite the complex subject matter the film retains a hopeful tone. At the premiere Evans commented “it is easy to be glibly critical of the United States,” yet through it all “the dissenting voice still exists” in contemporary American society. Like Mumia himself, who has published 5 books in prison, there are still those who can be heard through “so much media noise.”
Starring Mumia Abu Jamal, William Francome, Dante "Mos Def" Smith, Alice Walker, Calvin "Snoop Dogg"
Director Marc Evans
Screenwriter Marc Evans, William Francome
Producer Livia Giuggioli, Nick Goodwin
Run Time 95 mins
Release Date TBD